The term ‘creative effectiveness’ has been the focus of increasing debate. 

How should creative be judged? And do creatively awarded campaigns really outperform the rest? 

The word ‘creative’ holds the promise of exciting things that could happen. That excitement tends to garner admiration and envy, from others who hear us say that we’re working on something ‘creative’. 

We refer to marketing material as ‘the creative’. We put our creative out to pitch, we brief creative, we wait for creative development, we attend creative presentations, we sign off creative, we run creative campaigns and our creative agency hopes to win creative awards. 

Meanwhile, our stakeholders are quite rightly hungry for evidence of effectiveness, for results and for ROI. We often bemoan these stakeholders for standing in the way of creativity, for meddling with creative executions and labelling the marketing team’s focus on creativity as ‘the colouring-in department’. 

Understanding how creativity and effectiveness work together

To understand how ‘creative’ and ‘effectiveness’ are supposed to fit together, first we must understand the constraints set by the root meaning of these words.  

Effectiveness is to be successful in producing an intended result. From the Latin efficere meaning; accomplish. 

In marketing, the intended result we’re after is sales. To ‘sell’ is to persuade someone of the merits of something, be that the merits of a product or service for commercial organisations or the merits of safe and lawful behaviour for government organisations. 

The word ‘marketing’ traces back to the Latin word mercari meaning ‘buy’. If it isn’t persuading people to buy what we’re selling, it isn’t marketing. 

The word ‘creative’ also traces back to Latin. The word creare means; form out of nothing, or, to bring something into existence. Creativity is constrained by the requirement for originality, something that didn’t exist before.  

What is the value of originality for marketers? 

It helps to consider another Latin word - advertere. Today we say ‘advertise’ or just ‘ad’ but what this word really means is, turn towards. Think about that for a second, if it isn’t turning people towards the thing we’re selling, it isn’t advertising. 

This is where originality has value. Original, unexpected ideas turn heads. Originality surprises people, makes them look, and makes them tell others to look too. Remarkable creative can turn people towards what we’re trying to sell.  

The problem in ad-land right now is the pursuit of creativity as an end in itself. For marketers, getting attention is only a means to the end of selling. 

Here’s where defining the role of marketers and the role of advertising agencies can help both achieve creative effectiveness together. 

The primary role of advertising agencies is to originate unexpected ideas that turn heads. The marketer’s primary role is to persuade people of its merits. 

Having captured a target audience’s attention with an original creative idea, marketers have the opportunity to impart advice. We call this the message or proposition in a creative brief. But to be effective in the completion of a sale, marketers need to get clear on the behaviour they are trying to influence.

This outcome is what marketers must provide to advertising creatives in order to allow them creative freedom in originating a head-turning idea.  

To be effective, understand the objective

Understanding the behaviour objective, and the message or proposition that will persuade someone to complete that behaviour, allows advertising creatives to figure out how to get people to pay attention to that message. 

Behaviour objectives might seem complex, scientific, and uncreative. However, they simply answer the question: Get who to do what? Get thirsty people to pick our drink off the shelf. Get kids to make their seatbelt click. Get small business owners to start a free trial of our accounting software. None of these examples is the final sale result, but they are all necessary behaviours that will lead to the intended result. A sale at the cash register, reduced car crash fatalities, signups to the software subscription. 

"A kite can’t fly without someone holding the string."

Marketers who are clear about the behaviour that will lead to a sale can anchor creativity to effectiveness. A kite can’t fly without someone holding the string. 

Connecting the dots for our non-marketing stakeholders helps them see how ‘the creative’ will be effective in producing sales results. 

  • In order to buy what we’re selling, people need to complete a specific behaviour – Get who to do what? 
  • The creative brief is anchored to this behaviour objective. 
  • The creative campaign idea is designed to turn people towards this behaviour.
  • Creative Effectiveness will be measured by the increase in people who are aware of what we’re selling and persuaded of its merits.
  • The rest of the marketing plan and customer experience is designed to help people complete the necessary behaviours that lead to a sales result. 
  • Marketing Effectiveness will be measured by the increase in people who are buying what we’re selling. 

Written by Carl Sarney, Head of Strategy, TRA